Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Finally (Part 2)

Month 6, Day 11
Capt Jane Burke
0756 hours

Burke twisted her seat around to see a section of air darken and begin to shimmer. “Takor,” she called quietly. The Scissan turned its head and grabbed an analyzer from under the console to study the anomaly, which slowly coalesced and solidified, becoming... Humanoid, from the looks of his back. Dark pink coveralls, brown hair… The visitor had materialized facing Takor, and backed up quickly. Jane stood, and when her seat stopped the visitor, she stepped in front of him. “Hello. I’m Captain Jane Burke of the SpaceShip Fireball.”
The bearded visitor pulled his gaze off Takor, startled by Jane’s nearness.
“Sethym!” the old translator called, then reported, “Unknown language.”
The visitor whirled, grinned in relief at the redhead. He started forward, his mouth moving silently.
The redhead held out one hand in what must be a universal sign for ‘stop’ and backed away. Somehow, Smitty stumbled out of his chair to place himself before the visitor. The two men glared at each other.
Jane moved to a better vantage point. Space, who would have thought? Two Smittys, one bearded and faded, the other - my Smitty - pale with big yellow spots. Even more important, this native recognized MacDowell right away, which must mean-
The native man and MacDowell talked to each other, although no one on the bridge heard a word they said. But the ancient translator babbed as it apparently repeated every word, still unable to translate. The newcomer’s expression, as he talked over Smitty’s shoulder, went from relief to confusion to mild impatience. Still talking, MacDowell started working again, faster than she had been before.
Where’s the translator? I still hear it... oh, she put it on the floor. Out of reach, unfortunately, or I’d turn the volume up.
Abdulla looked unhappy. “It’ll take hours for that translator to make any progress, if they only speak their own language.”
“It partially translated when she first adjusted it,” Jane pointed out.
“It translated the Gaelic portion,” Abdulla corrected. “Mac’s native tongue, which it already knows.”
MacDowell glanced at the translator, then the machine alternated between English and the unknown language. “I am Colleen. ... My visitor is Kolla. ... She arrived here by accident. ... She wants to go-” At this point, the translator reverted to the unknown language as the male asked the redhead a question and she answered. Still working on her contraption, her attention turned again to teaching the machine. “I. ... You. ... He. ... She. ... We. ... You. ... They...”
“She’s conjugating pronoun subjects of sentences,” Abdulla whispered. “Giving the machine some basic vocabulary. That will cut down the time it needs immensely.”
“Smart girl,” Jane stated.
“Wish I could convince Mr Smythe of that.”
The redhead - MacDowell, or whoever she was - gave Abdulla a startled look, then stared at Smitty – the real one - with indignation. With a sad shake of her head, she returned to her work, speaking to her ‘rescuer’ at some length. They conversed for some time, the translator repeating the unknown language except for ‘he’ and ‘she’. There seemed to be quite a few ‘he’s and ‘she’s, with an occasional ‘you’ and ‘we’ thrown in for good measure.
Now the male glared at Smitty in angry disgust. But it’s lost on my Smitty. He looks completely unaware of anything. So much so, the only reason he’s still upright is because he doesn’t realize he is.
The lessons for the translator continued. “Blerp. The verb ‘to be’. I blarp; you blirp; he she blorp; we blirp; you blirp; they blirp. Vilt, the verb ‘to live’. I vilt; you vilt; he she viltz; we vilt; you vilt; they vilt. Whib. The verb ‘to walk’. Turm. The verb ‘to run’. Spah. Sphere. Crilc. Circle. Sarq. Square. Ceub. Cube. Triag. Triangle. Tren. A planet-” She stopped, both talking and working, her forehead grooved. “A planet? No. Not…” Her face lit up as she beamed at the newcomer. “Our planet! I mean, this planet!”
She’s smiling, she’s excited, but she’s so worn out, she looks like a grinning cadaver. “Translator, change my words to Gaelunder,” Jane ordered. “Colleen, Kolla, stop trying to teach us the local language. We can learn the old fashioned way. Finish your work, and each of you claim your own body. I don’t want to lose either of you.”
The redhead gave a short jerky nod and soon put her tool on the floor. Climbing laboriously to her feet, she pulled two loose wires closer to her, each hand holding one a couple inches from the end. Taking a deep breath, she muttered, “I hope this works.”
Surprisingly, Smitty whirled, his blood-shot eyes taking in her position in a single glance. “What are you doing?” She moved the wire ends closer to each other. “No! You can’t-” He lunged toward her, but the native male held him back.
As the 2 men tussled, the woman slapped the wires between her tightly clasped hands. The bridge lights faded, headed for darkness. The redhead’s body fluctuated between a black-and-white version and a blindingly colorful version, the changes coming faster and faster until the two versions seemed to be standing next to each other in the wildly changing available light.
The bridge went totally dark for half a second. Emergency lighting came on as the two women crumpled, each falling away from the other. The Smittys stopped fighting and surged forward, each catching a woman before she hit the floor.
Smitty tore away wires and smoothed the hair of the unconscious woman he held. At least, he tried to, but her curly hair crackled, threw off sparks and each individual hair moved at the whim of whatever eddy of air caught it.
The bearded Smitty seemed less worried about the woman he held, who was semi-conscious. Is she in better condition than the other?
Someone uttered words, which the old machine translated into English swear words. I heard the original as well as the machine, so…
The semi-conscious woman groaned. “Detox!”
Dr Davis jumped forward to give her an inoculation under one ear, then ran her hand-held monitor over the young lady’s form. Looking grim, Davis gave her more shots, below the other ear and inside an elbow. Ejecting that tube of chemicals, she reached into her bag for a replacement. She checked her monitor again and sat back on her heels with a deep sigh. “I can’t give you any more, MacDowell.”
“I’ve reached that feeling-sick stage,” MacDowell complained.
“You are sick,” Davis told her. “Detox breaks down alcohol into food for the Verasis virus, and you gave it a feast. Your spots are so big, your entire face is yellow.” The doctor put her equipment away and turned to Jane. “I need them both in sick bay, captain.”
“Of course,” Jane agreed.
“And the natives have been exposed.”
“Yes.” Jane had already been thinking how to keep them from leaving. Even if we manage to explain, do they have any way to communicate with their people, so we don’t have others coming to look for them?
“Sethym,” MacDowell muttered, though her eyes were closed. The man turned his attention to her, and silently responded. She spoke gibberish, then, according to the translator. When she finished, he nodded and stood, lifting her in his arms.
“That one’s mine!” Smythe declared.
Jane knelt before her chief engineer. “Smitty, you’re sick. Go to sick bay.”
“I don’t-” he started to protest.
“MacDowell is sick,” Jane went on. “Very sick. Both natives have been exposed and can’t leave.” I hope that’s what MacDowell said to the man. “I order you to sick bay. Show this native how to get there. He’ll carry MacDowell. Evans will carry the woman.”
Instead, the yeoman picked up the native woman and started for the lift. Dr Davis and the native man – who carried MacDowell – followed.
Jane helped Smitty to his feet and nodded to Abdulla. With the ancient translator in one hand, Abdulla put her other hand under Smitty’s arm and walked him out.
With a sigh of relief, Jane returned to her chair. At least they’re separated now. MacDowell’s sick but whole. The other – Kola? – has been unconscious since they separated. That’s worrisome. “Evans, adjust our orbit. Give us as much time as possible before we come around and approach that moon base again. But not so far out that it looks like we’ve disappeared.”

“Yes, captain.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Finally (Part 1)

Month 6, Day 11
Capt Jane Burke
0736 hours

Jane winced at the noise produced by the engineers - Abdulla was the only communications personnel involved - as they re-created a web of wiring and parts between the communications and engineering consoles. She stared at the chronometer until the fuzziness coalesced into numbers. Less than half an hour to day shift. Wonder if there’s anybody for me to turn the bridge over to. She toggled the intercom on her arm chair.
“Sick bay,” a voice responded.
She kept her voice calm and soft. “I know everybody is busy down there, but I did ask for someone to come to the bridge, just in case. We can’t be certain what’s going to happen.”
“Yes, Captain. Peg- Davis is on her way up. Oleander, who wrote this? This can’t be right. I’m surprised she’s not already there, captain.”
The lift between science and weapons opened, and Davis emerged. “She just arrived. Thank you.” Jane broke the connection just as an argument broke out among engineers. This has not been a smooth effort. If it was any less smooth, they would have come to blows.
“You can’t put a B1223 there!” Adams declared.
“Adams, don’t argue,” Wilson returned, not even raising her eyes from the sketch she held in one hand.
Dr Davis reached Jane’s side. “Anybody new been released?” Jane asked quietly.
“The B1223’s output would be garbage to the F382 you’ve got coming next! And we’re the same rank, Wilson, so don’t order me around!”
“The drawing says that’s where it goes,” Wilson stated coldly.
Davis’ voice was a whisper, comparatively. “Captain, everyone who gets released is instructed to report here for assignment. Is... that not correct any longer?”
“It must be a mistake!”Adams declared.
“Just attach it, Adams,” Abdulla instructed. “And before you get irate, I’m senior to both you and Ivy!”
“Can’t make the next grade, huh, Abbie?” Evans had turned away from the helm and grinned as he added his barbed query.
“Mr. Evans, you’re assigned to the helm,” Jane stated. “That qualifies you to participate in the discussion between engineering and communication personnel.”
He seemed surprised to see her still on the bridge. “Ah... yes, captain.” He turned back to his station.
Jane hoped her input might put out the flames of disagreement. “In that case, give me a stimulant,” she whispered to Davis. “A little stronger than the last one. When we get more of the crew able to work, we’ll figure out a better way to assign them, but for now, that arrangement stands.”
“I can’t recommend a third stimulant, captain,” Davis whispered as she readied the requested dose.
The engineering conversation had continued in lower voices, until, “What did you say?”
Jane turned to see Adams glaring at a chubby engineering tech. What did she say? Guess I can’t listen to two conversations at the same time.
“She said it’s not a B1223 anymore,” Abdulla told him. “And if you’d look at it, you’d see she’s right! It’s been modified!”
“Communications don’t use B1223’s, so how would you know?” Adams asked.
“Mr Adams,” Jane broke in, “Lt Abdulla could as easily work in engineering as communications. In fact, she’s been asked if she wanted to transfer - retaining her rank and seniority - but she’s happy where she is. Perhaps you should take another look at that... whatever... in your hand.”
Fuming, the engineer looked at the unit again. His forehead wrinkled, then he turned to the tech and asked, “How did you know?” He was much quieter, as if he didn’t want his voice to carry.
The tech shrugged. “Everything I’ve attached has been modified.”
“They’ve all been modified,” Abdulla stated.
“I hope I get a chance to study this arrangement,” Wilson told her. “The modifications are fascinating, but putting them all together is... I haven’t figured that out, but it looks impressive!”
Adams returned to work, but commented, “Considering that MacDowell did this, it will probably blow up before it even gets turned on.” Wilson, Abdulla, and even the tech glared at him. “Well, she doesn’t know anything. Everybody knows that.”
Abdulla responded in her native tongue as she worked. When she finished speaking, the tech added, “Don’t know what you said, but I agree 110%.”
Wilson grinned at the youngster and handed her another piece, showed her the sketch, and pointed out where/how it should go.
Where’s Smitty? Why hasn’t he & that redhead arrived yet? Jane glanced at the project, rather than the workers. Who knows how far they’ve gotten with putting it back together? Maybe he hasn’t even been able to find her, let alone convince her to-
The lift between communications and engineering opened, and Smitty stumbled onto the bridge, his face and hands covered in yellow spots. He looks ghastly. Was only a matter of time before he came down with the flu. Do I order him to sick bay now, or wait for him to collapse? Probably have to wait, if there’s work to be done.
An Amerind yeoman had emerged right after the chief engineer, and Jane could see the absolutely white face of a woman still on the lift. That woman put a hand out to stop the door from closing and stared at the group of people re-building the nonsensical contraption. She raised her other hand to chug the contents of a liquor bottle.
Jane’s face stiffened, but she didn’t frown. I know MacDowell’s a heavy drinker, but this isn’t the time...
The redhead - pink highlights in her curls, that’s new - slowly emerged from the lift as Smitty and the yeoman carefully made their way through the tangle of wires, with help from the workers. Smitty fell into the seat at engineering.
“Hello, Mac.” Wilson smiled at the redhead. “When this is over, you’ve got to teach me all about this... thing.”
When MacDowell didn’t respond, Abdulla muttered, “She might not be able to hear us, Ivy, don’t take it personal. And keep a safe distance; she’s packing a big electrical charge.”
“Six feet,” Smitty clarified. “Minimum distance.”
MacDowell looked at what each member of the ‘team’ was doing, then shooed them away with a strange mix of hand movements; one hand had the palm facing them, as if sliding crumbs off a table, and the other palm faced herself, fingers pointed down and moving out and up, rather like an old-fashioned broom Jane had seen once.
“Move,” the yeoman ‘translated’.
“Time to turn it over,” Wilson stated. “Thank you for your help, people. Mr Smythe, which of us would you like to take over the day shift in Engineering?”
“You,” he croaked, and managed to pull his gaze from the redhead. “Adams, be prepared for C shift, if I haven’t found anybody else by then. Take these others with you and divvy them up. Right now, they’re all the engineers we’ve got.”
Wilson hadn’t thought to ask Jane, nor had Smitty, and Jane let the arrangements stand.
“Okay.” Wilson handed the sketch to Smythe. “Leave your tools on the floor, where Mac can find them, and we’ll use the starboard lift.”
Within moments, the engineers left the bridge, Abdulla had backed up as far as the science console, and MacDowell had stepped forward to inspect the work that had been done. Relative silence fell over the bridge as the redhead did her inspection, occasionally changing the pattern of wiring connected to one of her modified pieces.
“Captain, something’s going on with the moon colony,” Moor reported.
“What?” Jane demanded, turning her chair to face him. Got so caught up in this thing with MacDowell, I nearly forgot the planet, the moon colony, and the people who live here. They must realize by now one of their people is missing. If one of them is. How many times have we orbited the planet, gone past that moon?
“I’m not certain,” Moor replied. “There’s several... what appear to be communication dishes. Most are aimed at the planet, which seems normal. But one of them is tracking us.”
“A weapon?” We were just going to take a quick look at this planet, something to keep up the morale of those who can work.
“Hard to tell. Like I said, they look like communication dishes. Why would they aim weapons at their home planet? Or only one weapon at us?”
“Good questions.” Are they trying to communicate? We can’t, our equipment is currently holding one of them. Wait... if their transportation takes place at the same wavelength that we communicate... “Evans, start blinking our exterior lights.”
“What?” The surprised helmsman turned to face her.
Jane tried hard to keep her temper. Why did I ever think he was ready... Later. “Take control of the docking lights, identification beacons, anything on the exterior of the ship that emits in the electromagnetic-”
“Would a synchronized one-two pattern serve the purpose, captain?” Abdulla asked from the science console.
“Yes. Vary the wavelengths as much as you can. We have no idea what frequencies they might see, hear or otherwise sense.”
Abdulla made 3 or 4 more adjustments and returned the console to Takor. “Done, captain.”
From the science console! That’s innovative. “Thank you, lieutenant. Keep me informed, Moor.” Jane turned her attention back to the redhead.
Smitty sat with his elbow on the engineering console, propping up his head. Dr Davis stood behind him, frowning at the screen of the medical reader she held near his back. His eyes are drooping, but he’s following every move MacDowell makes, utterly fascinated by what she’s doing. He probably doesn’t realize Davis is there.
MacDowell talked to herself as she worked, although no sound was heard. Jane caught movement in the corner of her eye and saw that Abdulla had an old-fashioned hand-held translator and had inched forward as she worked the controls. Abdulla took another step, and MacDowell abruptly moved back. Surprised, Abdulla realized how close she’d gotten, and stepped away.
That redhead looked like death warmed over when she got here, but now she’s alert and... downright lively.
MacDowell pointed to the translator and raised her fist sharply, her thumb aimed into the air. “Volume?” Abdulla muttered. “Raising the volume won’t do any good; there’s nothing for it to hear.”
MacDowell repeated the signal, and Abdulla shrugged in confusion. The redhead then alternately flexed and curled her hand as she moved it through the air. Abdulla shook her head and muttered, “This would be a good time to know a common sign language.”
“Waves,” the yeoman stated.
“Ocean waves,” Smitty said softly. “Cool, calm- Oh, I think I’m sea sick!” Davis hurriedly gave him a shot, and his body relaxed, his illness forgotten. “She keeps pointing to the translator, lieutenant. It’s got to have something to do with that.”
“I know that.” Abdulla’s response was little sharp.
By now, the redhead had given up on those signs, and repeatedly made fists, palms upward. Abdulla muttered to herself, still uncertain what the redhead wanted.
Takor’s yeoman surged forward, pulled the translator from Abdulla and tossed it. The redhead caught it, grinned, and began manipulating the controls, all the while talking. She still could not be heard. After a moment, MacDowell grabbed a tool from the floor, popped the unit open, and began making adjustments inside.
“Hey!” Smitty protested, at last realizing what she was doing. She didn’t respond, and he began muttering. “Suddenly, she can’t stop modifying everything!” Raising his voice, he told her, “I hope you can remember how to put that back the way it was.”
MacDowell suddenly stopped and stared for half a moment at the machine she held. With a grin, she said something, and the machine squawked: “Xguurblat is fĂ©idir liom.” While the machine droned, she looked up to see how they reacted. “ ‘Xguurblat’ is an unknown language. ‘Is feidir lion’ is Gaelunder for ‘I can.’ ”
“Did she just answer me?” Smitty wondered. “I didn’t hear a word she said, but apparently that machine did.” He hunched one shoulder and irritably exclaimed, “Whoever’s making that noise, cut it out!”

Now Jane heard it, too; a high-pitched whine that... warbled, for lack of a better word to describe it. MacDowell forgot the old translator she held, her eyes focused relentlessly on a point behind Jane’s chair.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Month 6, Day 12
0716 Hours

Smythe sighed as Yellow Dog returned from placing the bottle of whiskey on the floor. “Yeoman, I know Colleen likes that stuff.” Quite a lot. “But do you think she’s so addicted you can trap her with it?” That’s all we need on the crew, an out-of-control alcoholic communications officer.
“No trap,” the normally uncommunicative woman responded, and glanced at him. “Not addicted.”
Apparently, she has no idea how much of the stuff Colleen has brought aboard. Even I’ve lost count, and I doubt if I know about all of the bottles. It’s definitely more than three. He considered the four bottles the yeoman still held against her chest.
Smitty was about to disagree with Yellow Dog when the air vent cover landed on the floor with a crash. He watched in shock as a haggard Colleen crawled out of the vent. How did she ever fit in there? Wouldn’t have believed she could, if I hadn’t seen it. She’s too... rounded.
Without rising, Colleen made her way to the bottle. She sat to open it.
“How did you know she was here?” Smitty asked, but the yeoman only shrugged. “Where did you get all that whiskey?”
“Found,” she answered.
Unsatisfied, he turned his attention back to Colleen just in time to see her raise the bottle to her lips and drink the contents down. The entire bottle! Didn’t even pause to take a breath! She’s killing herself! Well, it might be an easier death, at that. If only I’d understood what was going on earlier! We’ve got to get her to the bridge! This has to work!
With the bottle empty, Colleen sat where she was, her head sagging, for a couple moments, then raised her head to look at them. Strangely, her face seemed to have a hint of color to it now; it was no longer the absolute white and gray it had been before. With great difficulty, she climbed to her feet, staggered as she turned to face them. A dark blue aura shimmered around her. “Dog,” she greeted, but her voice seemed to come from very far away. The aura disappeared.
The yeoman held out another bottle, showing it to the redhead. “Come,” she requested, and bumped Smitty with her elbow, urging him out of the room. She put the second bottle on the floor in the hallway, and they slowly started their journey to the primary bridge.
Smitty couldn’t help but look back repeatedly. The redhead actually did follow them, at least as far as the doorway. She leaned against the bulkhead, much as he had, looking too exhausted to continue. But after a couple deep breaths, she picked up the bottle Yellow Dog had left behind, took a drink, and then staggered on in their wake.
“She trusts you,” Smitty muttered as they neared the lift.
“Yes,” the yeoman agreed.
He eyed the lift doors as they approached. “How do you tell her to go to the bridge? We occasionally can hear her, but she doesn’t seem to hear what we say.”
He mulled that over, not sure what she meant. After glancing behind again, he asked, “You mean, get her on the lift with us?”
She turned her head and brown eyes considered him carefully. “Yes.”
His brow furrowed into a frown. “Considering that... electrical charge she has - and doesn’t really seem able to control - that is fairly tight quarters. We may wind up unconscious.”
Again the yeoman shrugged. “Gamble.”
Smitty grunted. That’s a gamble, alright. It’s a gamble that one of us will manage to instruct the lift before we lose consciousness. And if we don’t, Colleen may never realize we’ve moved her work to the primary bridge, where it needs to be. So, since the girl’s life... lives? on the line, I refuse to lose consciousness until after the lift is instructed.
The door opened, and Yellow Dog entered without hesitation, stood against the wall opposite the door, followed closely by Smitty. Colleen stopped a few feet from the lift, watched them warily. The door started to close. “Hold here,” Smitty told the computer.
The door reversed its movement. “Holding,” the computer stated.
Maybe I could- “Computer when I tell you to go, take us directly to the bridge, with no stops along the way. Do you understand?”
“Understood,” the computer returned.
Colleen looked down the hall behind her, then considered the two of them yet again, her brow furrowed in confusion. Yellow Dog waved for her to join them.
“Show her another bottle,” Smitty suggested.
The yeoman sighed but took hold of another bottle by the neck and held it up where Colleen could see the label. The redhead cocked her head to one side, and held up the bottle she still had. It was half full.
Don’t tell me this isn’t going to work! It’s got to work!.
It was a strange thing to see, but Colleen approached the lift jerkily. Like she’s... dragging herself? If both of them really are in there together, which one is dragging the other? She finally stepped inside the door line - barely - and stopped abruptly.

“Go,” Smitty said softly. The door silently closed so close to the girl, it stirred the bottom hem of her uniform. They were on their way to the bridge. Hope they’ve got that contraption put back together for her. Doesn’t look like she’s got the energy to repeat any work she’s already done once.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reaching the End

Month 6, Day 11
0655 Hours

She awoke slowly, feeling foggy-headed and out of breath. After a moment of panic in the utter blackness, she remembered where she was. That’s why I feel so claustrophobic. I never did like places like this, so small I can barely wriggle through them. This is worse than a jefferies tube. What did you call it? An air duct? Not intended for people to travel in, but less chance of being found. Which is good, since we fell asleep again. So now where do we go, Kolleen?
Kolla stilled her mind and listened for the internal voice that had become so familiar to her. No answer came. Kolleen, are you there? Still no response. Yellow Pits of Zort! Has she died? What will happen to me? But through the panic and fear, she felt an overwhelming yearning for a bottle of the strange liquid Kolleen had been pouring down her throat. That realization helped her calm down. The drink has... worn off. We can’t hear each other. Zort, I don’t know where to find any more of it!
Well, if I have to do this by myself, then I’d better get to it. What did she say when we stopped to catch our breath, just before I fell asleep? I think... we were getting close. Ahead - somewhere - is a branch going up... We got stuck on terms for distance, until she said the branch goes up about as far as this elbow to the fingertips, then turns at a right angle to this tube, and ends in a mesh. Once I get through that mesh, then I’ll be in that 2nd command room where our attempt was interrupted before.
She inched forward until she got to a place where she could see the confining walls around her. She carefully turned over, onto her back, and saw that the light came from around a corner in the duct branch above her. This must be it! Moving slowly, aware now that she would not hear noises that these people could, she managed to sit up and then to get her feet under her rump. A scant hands-length from her face, a mesh of fine wires stood between her and the 2nd command room. Oh, no!
Several people were there, systematically tearing apart all the work she and Kolleen had done a few hours before. Kolla’s heart sank, and tears slid down her cheeks. Why did I fall asleep? I knew time was getting short! And now I’m too late! Oh, I’m so tired! And getting queasy. Would that be the claustrophobia?
Though her sight blurred, she continued to watch. The people worked in pairs, one talking and putting labels on the bit of circuitry in front of them while the other wrote. Eventually, that piece would be separated from the rest, placed in a box, and that pair would move to the next area.
Among the workers, she noticed her husband’s look-alike, talking while a woman took notes. Poor man looks as tired as I feel. What are those brown blotches on his face? I don’t remember those, and I got a good look at him when he interrupted our work. She studied the other faces in the room. Nobody else has them.
Pair by pair, the workers left, taking their notes and the boxes with pieces of Kolla’s attempt to get home. Eventually, only Sethym’s look-alike remained. Even the woman working with him had left, taking the box with the pieces he had removed, and leaving him leaning against a console. His eyes were closed, his shoulders slumped, and his head slowly lowered, his chin seemingly headed for his chest.
Then a woman entered, a woman in a brown uniform, not the maroon ones everybody else down here had been wearing. That’s the woman who helped us escape that time. She had that strange name- well, they all have strange names, but that one even more so. Yellow Dog. Yes, that was it.
Yellow Dog stopped just inside the doorway, something clutched against her chest, and studied the speckled Sethym look-alike. He tilted to one side and awoke with a start. Yellow Dog lost interest in him and looked around the room. But not just with her eyes. That one uses more than her eyes, I think.
After a long moment, Yellow Dog started purposefully across the room, headed straight for the vent where Kolla was hidden. Shocked, Kolla thought of scurrying back into the dark and confining ductwork. I wouldn’t make it. I haven’t the strength. If I tried, I’d probably make a lot of noise in my haste, so they’d know I was in here anyway. Besides, where would I go? This was my last hope.
Yellow Dog stopped before she fully reached the meshed vent and placed something on the floor. Then she walked over to the man, took a firm grip on his arm, and started helping him towards the door.
Kolla’s gaze turned back to the thing on the floor. It wasn’t all of what Yellow Dog carried, but Kolla recognized the bottle. That’s the stuff Kolleen drinks. Her eyes stung as she thought of being trapped in this body that wasn’t hers, of the trouble she had already caused for Kolleen, who had only tried to help her. Two minds in one body. There’s no way this poor woman could have a normal life with me in here, too. Not that this body will live much longer, anyway. But before we die, I should at least apologize to her.

The woman in brown and man in maroon had stopped in the doorway to look back. She didn’t care. Zort’s Shadow, I miss talking to her!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Captain’s Answers

Month 6 Day 11
Jane Burke
0551 Hours

Jane couldn’t stop her yawn, then stared at the helm for a second before making a slight adjustment. “Did you say Bugalu is awake?” she asked Dr Davis. “How long before he can return to work?”
Davis explained. “He’s awake from the... electrical charge, for lack of better words. But that shock weakened his immune system and the flu immediately took over, so he’s not capable of work.” Jane scowled, and Davis hurried on. “On the other hand, Evans is released. He should be here in a couple minutes, as soon as he’s showered.”
I should be relieved to hear it. He is in charge of the bridge on midnight shift, after all. But I’d prefer it was Bugalu. Davis was watching her closely. “Any idea what happened in Bugalu’s room? He broadcast that MacDowell was there, and by the time anyone arrived, he was unconscious, and she was gone. I know that much.”
“From what I understand, Yeoman Yellow Dog and Lt Tall Bear got there at the same time, from different directions. There’s no clue where MacDowell went. She seems very resourceful.”
“Apparently,” Jane growled in frustration. What an understatement. She turned as the lift door opened. Takor emerged, and an exhausted Smitty staggered behind him. “News, gentlemen?”
“We have a theory,” Takor stated.
Dr Davis walked to Smitty and gave him a shot in his neck. He didn’t react until she was done, and his scowl of surprise quickly changed to a less haggard face and a straightening of his spine.
A stimulant? Why didn’t she say so? Jane motioned the doctor close and canted her head as the stimulant was delivered into her neck. Well, that cleans some of the cobwebs from my brain.
There was a sharp crackle from the communications console, and Abdulla complained in her native language. Smitty whirled, his eyes round. “You aren’t still- Stop trying to drain that!”
Abdulla stood, looking angry. Her eyes flashed, but her voice was even as she reported, “I haven’t made any progress.”
Smitty gave a short nod and relaxed. “Come and listen.” She walked over, and Smitty waved her to sit at navigation, currently empty. Davis offered her a shot of stimulant, but she refused.
Takor started. “Ms MacDowell has been studying radios.”
“That’s a surprise?” Abdulla muttered.
“It is her field,” Dr Davis stated in confusion.
Smitty didn’t answer those statements. “She’s also been studying the theories of transporting solid objects by breaking them into electro-magnetic waves. Her notes concerned similarities between communications equipment and the theory of transporters.”
“Similarities?” Abdulla asked.
“Far more of them than you’d think,” Smitty added. “Although, from what we managed to decipher, she veered quite a ways from the current theoretical formulas.”
“She did so deliberately,” Takor reminded him.
“I still don’t-“
“What’s your theory?” Jane asked impatiently.
Smitty frowned as Takor explained. “That we somehow intercepted a transporter beam of the natives, and the contents of that beam are now trapped in our communications equipment. Or, more correctly, the electrical manifestation of the native’s body is still in the equipment. The consciousness, we believe, is inside Ms MacDowell. Unfortunately, we have not yet discovered how such a transfer happened.”
“If the native’s mind is inside Mac’s body,” Abdulla asked, “then where’s Mac’s mind?”
“There are two possibilities,” Takor responded. “Both intelligences might be present in the one body.”
“But I think Colleen’s consciousness has been transferred into the communications equipment,” Smitty stated. “She’d never make any sense of those papers on the theory of transportation, let alone the formulas involved.”
“Yes, you would think that,” Abdulla muttered, which earned her a sharp look from her superior.
“I disagree, Mr Smythe,” Takor returned. “Most of the handwriting in her notes looked much like Mr MacDowell’s to my eye.”
Burke opened the intercom. “Attention all hands. This is the captain. I am countermanding all previous orders regarding Lt MacDowell. If you see her, report it to the bridge, but make no move to interfere with her. But do avoid all physical contact.” She closed the channel. “What was she doing on the auxiliary bridge?”
“She didn’t get much done,” Smitty stated. “But it looks like she was trying to modify the circuitry to try to retrieve her own body. It wouldn’t have worked. The essence of the native may have been temporarily converted to something that resembles electricity, but it cannot be electricity. It must have some... cohesiveness that keeps it together. Otherwise, our efforts to remove that charge from our equipment would have worked. Or it would have joined the electricity in the rest of the ship and been dispersed. If she tried to move that... pseudo electricity to another location, most of it wouldn’t arrive.”
“What about the cohesiveness you mentioned? Wouldn’t that keep it together?” Jane wondered.
“Why did this happen to Mac?” Abdulla interrupted. “I assume the console exploded because it was suddenly flooded with pseudo-electricity that it wasn’t built for. Why didn’t that consciousness enter me? Why wait until Mac got here?”
“We have no answer for that,” Takor stated.
Jane didn’t wait for them to remember her unanswered question. “What do you recommend?”
Smitty didn’t hesitate. “She needs to drain that residue directly into a... converter. We’ve got to recreate what she was doing on the auxiliary bridge here, on the main bridge. Help her finish it, if we can. And then-“ He swallowed, and his voice got quieter. “Then we hope there’s enough of her left in the equipment to... complete the procedure.”
“Do you agree, Takor?”
“The alternatives all appear to result in at least one death, either of the native, or of Lt MacDowell. Or both.”
“Then do it,” Jane instructed.
“Yes, captain,” Smitty responded, and headed for the lift.
Abdulla watched her superior with wistfulness. “Lt, go help him, since there’s nothing up here you can do right now.”
“Thank you, captain!” Abdulla smiled as she hurried to catch up with Smitty.
Jane turned to the doctor. “The next time you think I need a stimulant, just tell me.”
“Yes, captain,” she acknowledged, and prepared to leave.
“Have any engineering or communications people been recently released from sickbay?” Jane asked.
“Yes,” she answered, looking thoughtful. “Wilson, Adams... Jones. And Vogel.”
“Thank you.” Again, Jane opened the intercom. “Attention. All engineering and communications staff capable of working are to report to Mr Smythe on the auxiliary bridge.” She closed the channel and turned to her science officer. “Sit at navigation, Takor.”
It hesitated. “I am not trained-”
“Don’t touch the controls, just sit. Conversation is easier if we are both sitting.”
“I see.” It moved around her and sat in the chair Abdulla had vacated. “Was our explanation not clear, captain?”
“Clear enough to make a decision. Let’s call this curiosity. If we intercepted a transportation... signal, and MacDowell is not- was not familiar with that technology, since we don’t yet have it, then it seems likely the native directed her studies. Would you agree?”
“I do, captain. Most of the handwriting, as I’ve said, seemed like MacDowell’s, but there are places - especially in the beginning - where pieces of the theoretical equations were crossed out and something else substituted, including symbols neither of us recognized. Those areas were much less similar to MacDowell’s handwriting, but the writer appeared confident. I suspect the native is quite familiar with the workings of their transportation equipment.”
I hope so. “Doesn’t it seem likely that this... person would have realized it was not feasible to pull her... its physical form from this bridge to the auxiliary bridge?”
“Desperate humanoids will act on the slimmest chances.”
“We don’t know the natives are humanoid.”
“There must be something about MacDowell’s physical form that was compatible. And the cohesion of that signal may be stronger than Mr Smythe believes, making the attempt possible.”
“Not strong enough to keep its body and intellect together,” Jane pointed out.
“After that make-shift contraption is built here, how do we get... MacDowell to come here? She can’t hear us explain. She’s done her best to avoid us. And I can’t blame her.” There isn’t a word for this mixed being, so we’ll have to keep using our crew member’s name.
“My yeoman will manage it.”
“Your yeoman?”
“They are good friends.”
“Bugalu is her best friend, and she left him unconscious.”
“It is hard to explain, captain. But if there is a difference in MacDowell’s mind - if she shares it with another person - then YD will know and act accordingly.”
“Whidee?” Jane repeated. Whitey? That’s not-.
“Yellow Dog,” he explained. “Is it inappropriate to use an abbreviation of her last name? Many others do so, and I picked up the habit.”
Oh, Y D! “It would not be appropriate any time formality is called for, but if she doesn’t object... It simply caught me by surprise.” I seldom notice nicknames. Keeps me from using them with the lower ranks.
“Do you need a nap, captain?”
“I just received a stimulant, Takor. And you are not trained in helm or navigation.”
“But Mr Ryan is, and he has arrived for assignment.”
She turned to find the relief navigator behind them, faint spots barely visible on his face. “Captain, I’m reporting for duty.”
“Good. You may return to your station, Takor. Mr Ryan, take your accustomed seat. It’s good to have you back.”

“Thank you, captain.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

One Good Friend

Month 6 Day 11
0311 Hours

Kolla opened her eyes and rolled away from the black man. Rising to her knees, she looked around the room. “Nobody else is here yet, Mac said in the back of her mind. We can’t have been out very long, but they’re bound to show up soon.
I know, Kolla answered, her lips pressed together. She considered the unconscious man. Is this one also a friend?
“He’s my brother.”
If she had actually been talking, Kolla would have sputtered. Brother?
“That’s how close our friendship is.”
Is everybody on this... ship your friend?
“No. There’s a couple I can’t stand. Some I haven’t actually met. Quite a few I would not want to be alone with.”
Yet every time we are found, it is by one of your friends.
Yeah, what rotten luck. I’d much prefer running into someone I would like to punch.
That would render us unconscious, too.
I’d find a way.
Yes. Kolla laboriously climbed to her feet, leaned on the desk as the room started to spin. You have managed to avoid it pretty well. Until this one.
I never expected Bugsy to tackle me. Didn’t anybody tell him what would happen if he touched me?
How would your people know about that... side effect of our situation?
They wouldn’t be assigned here if they were stupid. That first encounter with Takor-“
The lizard. Right after you... Kolla could feel a chuckle emanating from the other ...invaded me.
It wasn’t something I wanted to do.
I know. Anyway, after that accidental touch, somebody would have figured it out. Kolla sucked in a deep breath. Are you feeling better? Because we really should get moving.
Yes, Kolla acknowledged. She turned, was startled to see a black-haired, dusky-skinned woman in the doorway from the corridor. But the woman who entered paid no attention to her, knelt beside the black-skinned man and wrapped her long fingers around his wrist.
This one is a friend, too.
You said that about the man.
He- Apparently, he doesn’t understand what’s going on.
Then this one won’t, either. Mac didn’t answer right away. Kolla could feel her thoughts churning in the mind they shared. I- We can’t ask for help again. We don’t have any energy to spare. With two of us inside this body, it’s doing double duty, you could say. It’s very rapidly approaching complete exhaustion.
I wasn’t that far from it when you arrived.
She stepped toward the door. What? Why? Their internal conversation was interrupted when the black-haired woman rose to her feet and hurried to get to the door first. Kolla watched her warily, expecting to be stopped. But the woman-
Her name is Yellow Dog. I think she’s here to help.
Not likely.
Meanwhile, Yellow Dog strode boldly into the corridor, where she stopped to look in both directions. Then she waved Kolla/Mac forward. Of two minds about what to do, the redhead started forward slowly.
Yellow Dog gestured for her to hurry, again looking in both directions, then stepped across the hall and opened a jeffries tube hatch. Reaching the open door, the redhead leaned out just far enough to glance up and down the hall. Yellow Dog had stepped well away from the hatch. Seeing no one else in the corridor, the redhead hurried across the hall and dove into the tube. The hatch closed and was dogged shut behind her.
Kolla/Mac crawled along the tube in the dim light. I hope your brother is okay.
So do I.
Why did the woman help us while the men have tried to stop us?
Well, I’ve been thinking for some time that YD is telepathic. Or at the very least, she’s extremely empathetic.
You think she knows that you are now... us?
I would not be surprised if she does. I’ve never managed to surprise her.
Kolla paused just long enough to raise a hand and try to stifle a yawn. Why were you already near exhaustion when I arrived?
I’ve worked a number of double and triple shifts this past week. Almost everybody aboard is sick. And before that, I’d started having trouble sleeping. Probably nerves, since despite a great deal of studying, I can’t remember anything long enough to pass a simple quiz by my boss.
You have problems with your memory?
I never used to. Not until I arrived here. But now, any time the boss asks a question, my mind goes completely blank. Sadness emanated through the entire body. So of course he thinks I’m a complete idiot, and he’s about to ship me out.
That seems harsh. I haven’t seen any lack of knowledge in you. Except, perhaps, difficulty understanding basic solid transport concepts. But if that’s not your field-
Kolla, we don’t have that.
What do you mean?
Those papers I finally found? The ones you said were full of holes and in some places just plain wrong? They weren’t on improving a transporter. They were on the theory of transporting solid matter.
Really? Then I take it back. For someone just hearing that it can be done, you grabbed the concepts quite readily. Your captain would be the idiot, if he cannot see your intelligence.
The captain doesn’t make that decision. She leaves it up to the department head. In my case, Mr Smythe.
The name sounds... familiar. Have we run into him?
A couple of times.
Is he the big one you had to fight?
No, that guy is in security. Smit is... he’s... Words failed, but a picture of the man slowly formed in Kolla’s consciousness.
Kolla mentally grunted. That’s the one I mistook for Sethym, when I first got here. But Sethym has a mustache.
Who’s Sethym?
My boss.
If he’s anything like Smythe, I feel sorry for you.
He’s also my husband.
One arm buckled, and the body nearly landed on its face before adjustments could be made. Husband?
That’s a scary thought.
Kolla dismissed that topic and lay down, rolling onto her back. What do we do now? Do we have any options left? She closed her eyes. Maybe we just fall asleep right here, and... not wake up again. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Nope. The body rather jerkily returned to hands and knees and moved on, turned at the next intersection. We go back to the auxiliary bridge.
We’ve already tried that.
We try it again. And by the way, what were you doing to Smythe that made him look... scared?
You don’t know?
It’s not like you were doing it in front of a mirror. Plus, the whiskey was wearing off. It was getting hard to hear each other.
Kolla considered what words would best explain. I was wishing he were Sethym.

Mac sighed internally. Guess it doesn’t matter. I won’t be here past the end of this quarantine anyway.